Indy Startup Weekend

Indy Startup Weekend (Photo credit: kmakice)

A couple of weeks ago, I was working with a group of Spaniards who were coming to Silicon Valley to taste the air of entrepreneurship and start-ups in the hopes of getting inspired. I wanted to show them 8 ways to deliver a great investor pitch. They had prepared their 3 – 5 minute pitches based on the PPT I had sent them that Guy Kawasaki recently published.

When I listen to pitches from people who aren’t from around here, I have to remind myself that we breathe, eat and think entrepreneurship and hear pitches every day and many evenings at networking events, and not everyone understands how to pitch as seamlessly if he/she doesn’t live here.

So what happens often is that the international startup entrepreneurs give a pitch but it’s convoluted and unclear with lots of jargon and technical words.

It all sounds interesting but  – reminiscent of the dot com days – the audience and I have no clear idea what the company does or what problem it plans on solving.

These international startup entrepreneurs present the big picture, talk in abstracts, concepts, generalities and there is no point, no “so what” at the end [or in the middle either].

I try to get them to understand what is not understandagle by asking a couple of simple questions. But, “what is the problem you are trying to solve?” generally gets a 5 minute + answer without any examples or anecdotes. In other words, really uninteresting and too complicated.

This approach works in Europe [I assume, since every European seems to present this way], but doesn’t work here. We and the startup entrepreneurs have to peel back all the layers, like an onion, to get at the simple basics.

The best advice to begin with is to follow Guy’s pitch deck or others’ [there are lots of good examples of pitch decks] depending on the time you have available; if you can’t present all the slides, you should have them ready in case someone asks you about them.

So what should you do if you’re new here, come from overseas and want to develop a good pitch?

1      Practice being able to talk about your company and the problem it solves [or the issue it addresses] in one sentence – and one sentence only!

2      Then, tell a story about a customer who used your product or service explaining your secret sauce in the story. This is your chance to build your technical details into the story which shows how it all works

3      Show your passion and let people see why you really care! and, why you’re going to see this through to the end

4      Use simple English sentences; speak in verbs not nouns. It’s much easier to understand and it’s more conversational

Sir Stuart Rose, formerly CEO and Chairman of Marks and Spencer, says: “You have to take time to distill what you want to say down to its essence. Keep it short and simple…”

5     Make sure your slides have no spelling or English mistakes

6      Show people you know what you are talking about

7      Be prepared to talk without any PPT. Many investors want to hear you without having to look at your presentation so they get a sense of who you are first.

Graham Mackay, CEO of SABMiller talking about PowerPoint: “ [It’s]… the invention of the devil and it encourages disjointed thought. Great communication is about real clarity and clarity has many enemies. One is business jargon, one is PowerPoint and another is length.”

8     Think of your end goal: you want to be invited for a longer conversation with the investor. So prepare, prepare and practice what you’re going to say. Be enthusiastic. It’s nice to listen to someone who is obviously enjoying himself/herself. And, enthusiasm is infectious, so if you have a good idea and product, it might just get you the next 30 minutes you are looking for.

For some more practical examples from the experts in Silicon Valley, listen to what Bill Reichert, Heidi Roizen, Pitch Johnson, Eric Benhamou and Steve Westly have to say about what makes them engage with startup entrepreneurs and their stories.

If you have any other ideas or comments that would help international entrepreneurs understand how to deliver a great pitch faster, please share your ideas here.

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